Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tiens! Élysée Gives the Hook to Zemmour?

The Élysée wants the race-baiting provocateur Éric Zemmour off the air, "according to our sources," says Le Monde. Unfortunately, the paper does not say what those sources are, France TV denies the rumor, and Zemmour himself is playing dumb. Meanwhile, Sarko-appointee Rémy Pflimlin has sacked Franz-Olivier Giesbert, who has just published a rather critical book about Sarkozy, consisting of FOG's patented mix of anecdotes vachardes et analyses légères. Nothing personal, says France TV, just a matter of ratings and demographics. Well, OK, all right then.

And if Sarkozy was so incensed by Zemmour, was he also incensed by Copé's invitation to Zemmour to address the UMP? By Guéant's echoing of certain of Zemmour's remarks? The good cop and the bad cop don't seem to be working over the same suspect.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Le Pen in the Times

The New York Times profiles Marine Le Pen--a remarkably uncritical piece, in my view, quite shocking in the degree to which it lends itself to her effort to differentiate herself from her father and.portray the party as a champion of the working man. "Obama is way to the right of us,” she says, and the interviewer lets her get away with it.

Du rififi chez les Verts

The Greens are anything but a pastoral symphony of late. First, Hulot challenged Joly as the presidential candidate of Europe Écologie-Les Verts. When a political party has to resort to a hyphenated name, you know there's trouble, and now we have confirmation in the confrontation between Cécile Duflot, the incumbent leader, and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the fiery challenger, who accuses gentle Cécile of running EELV as a "Stalinist" regime. Dany has for some time been floating his idea of transforming what he believes has become too much of a "party" back into a "movement," a decentralized federation of "collectives" locally organized across France. Duflot, he alleges, has created a cult of personality around her person.

That may seem a bit rich coming from a man who is a cult of personality unto himself, and the underlying issues remain a bit obscure to outsiders. Yves Cochet blames resentment at the rise of a younger generation, but DCB's desire to have EELV compete in a broad-based primary of the Left suggests something more substantial and fundamental. He sees power as essential to politics, even of the green variety, and wants to be sure that the next head of state is from the Left. Other greens prefer to keep the party as pure as possible, even if that means shunning the direct exercise of power and influencing government by other means.

Mélenchon, Bouffeur de curé et de premier ministre!

I like to think of myself as a mild, tolerant fellow, but I do now and then enjoy a good bit of anticlerical rant. Jean-Luc Mélenchon obliges with a diatribe against Fillon et cie. I mean, what can you say? Rome makes itself an easy target with its ludicrous haste to capitalize on John Paul II's charisma (in the modern and not the original sense of the word, alas!). A beatification and a royal wedding in the same week! Why, it's enough to make a media mogul squeal with delight, and the Sarko team, fresh from defending laïcité by banning the burqa, will soon be off to Rome to celebrate the authenticated miracle of the late Pope. But let Mélenchon have at them:

C’est la mode des vieilleries de droite les plus éculées. Voir la procession à Rome, le premier mai, fête du travail, d’une troupe de bigots du gouvernement, premier ministre en tête pour assister à la « béatification » de feu le pape Jean Paul II, d’illustre mémoire progressiste. Il y aura aussi les ministres des affaires étrangères, Alain Juppé, et de l’intérieur, Claude Guéant. Ces messieurs les prétendus grands laïcs, membre d’un gouvernement qui s’est spécialisé dans la stigmatisation de la religion des autres, vont à la messe solennelle. Un acte singulier. François Fillon sera le seul chef de gouvernement étranger présent à cette cérémonie, à côté de deux illustres présidents qui sont des monuments de la laïcité européenne, le  polonais et l’italien. Pourtant, la béatification est un acte purement religieux et très étroitement lié au culte catholique. Et d’ailleurs dans un de ses aspects les plus spécifiques et non le moins étrange. Cette béatification n’a aucune signification politique, morale ou autre qui pourrait servir de prétexte à cette présence gouvernementale. C’est juste un rite interne de l’Eglise catholique. En effet, pour que Jean-Paul II soit « béatifié », selon l’étrange coutume en la matière,  il fallait qu'il soit prouvé qu'il ait réalisé un miracle. Rien de moins. Le 14 janvier Benoît XVI en a décidé ainsi. Voyons le miracle à l’origine du déplacement des principaux ministres du gouvernement. Il s'agit de la guérison inexpliquée, en juin 2005, de la religieuse française Marie Simon-Pierre, de la congrégation des Petites Soeurs des maternités catholiques. Sa guérison soudaine dans la nuit du 2 au 3 juin 2005 serait due au fait qu'elle ait écrit le nom de Jean-Paul II sur un papier en l'implorant. C’est ce que croient les autorités de l’église. C’est bien leur droit. Mais c’est à cela que s’associent le premier ministre et les autres grands esprits de son équipe. Voilà où est rendue la France de Voltaire et de Rousseau !

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Laurent Fabius reportedly said that if 2012 comes down to a second-round choice between Le Pen and Sarkozy, he would vote Le Pen:

Après son intervention, il a dîné au Café Français avec la dizaine d'étudiants qui avaient préparé l'événement. Au cours du repas, il s'est livré à un petit questionnaire avec eux en leur demandant ce qu'ils feraient s'ils avaient à choisir au deuxième tour entre Nicolas Sarkozy et Marine Le Pen. Quelques étudiants ont répondu qu'ils voteraient Sarkozy, mais la plupart ont choisi l'abstention ou le vote blanc. Tout comme Laurent Fabius, d'ailleurs. « En 2002, j'ai voté Chirac même si je ne l'aimais pas. Mais, en 2012, je n'aime tellement pas Sarkozy ni sa politique qu'il me serait impossible de voter pour lui. »

I am reminded of why I so dislike Fabius. Can he be serious? Nothing that Sarkozy has done can to my mind justify such a position--and I am hardly Sarko's greatest fan. But look at Le Pen's positions: quit Europe, restore the franc, move to protectionism -- can Fabius really be willing to bear the costs of these things (even given his anti-EU past)? And that's to say nothing of Le Pen's positions on immigration and civil rights.

CORRECTION: As several commenters have noted, Fabius doesn't say he would vote for Le Pen; he says that he would abstain or vote blank. Sorry, I was reading to hastily. But I also find abstention incomprehensible and irresponsible.

INSEE Report on Integration

Second-generation immigrants with European parents are less likely to fall below the poverty line than second-generation immigrants with African parents, according to an INSEE report. The full report can be found here (pdf).

History of the Veil

With the Muslim veil in one form or another the object of so much politicking in France lately, this new history of Islamic veiling practices is quite timely. Reviewed here by Chris Stansell.

Illegal Immigration

Why does it exist? Facchini and Testa offer an explanation:

In a nutshell, governments face stark incentives: the rhetoric of closed border helps them gain in popularity among the electorate; the reality of lax enforcement (through insufficient enforcement or ineffective use of enforcement activities) responds to the interests of sectors who gain from employing foreign workers. As the mantra of closed borders is climbing high in the discourse of many European governments, whereas many sectors remain dependent on foreign work, the gap between “rhetoric” and reality can only grow bigger. Illegal immigration is largely a tale of political failure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blogger's Credo: The Quotidian Horizon vs. Sub Specie Aeternitatis

Occasionally, one ought to pause to reflect on what one does in this vale of tears. An anonymous commenter has given me an opportunity to review once again the "Why I blog" question. The commenter had this to say about my post "Mars and Venus":

Maybe... but articles like that are going to appear pretty much whatever happens. People are always throwing up their hands and declaring something is finished when life doesn't go entirely smoothly (suggesting that they've never opened a single history book). Taking a dramatic view is pleasurable, whether the drama is in dismissing the capabilities of your allies, or of your own country, or questioning the motives and strategies of politicians from the position of omniscience which most journalists, and those who add comments to journalists' writings, seem to inhabit.
To which I responded (with mild embellishments):
Do I detect an ever so slightly critical edge in that comment? Ars longa, vita breva est, etc. The problem with the long view is that so much of life passes by while one is taking it. I got into blogging in order to shed the marmoreal serenity of the historian, who really does inhabit the world of passionless omniscience you so reasonably deplore but wrongly attribute to journalists, pundits, and the soldatesque of bloggers who follow in their wake. Being wrong daily tends, I find, to induce a little humility and bring one back to the limited horizon of the quotidian where politicians and other ordinary mortals move. To dramatize is human, and even those realists whom you seem to admire, the politicians, indulge in it from time to time. To go to war to prevent a "bloodbath," for example, is to employ a very dramatic trope. So is remaining silent about bloodbaths nearby that one prefers to avoid preventing (a drama now playing in Syria).

Backtracking on Hadopi

One after another, the signature reforms of the Sarkozy presidency are being modified or scrapped. "I will never retreat on the tax shield," Sarko said, before retreating. And now the ever-unpopular Hadopi law on Internet downloads is up for revision. Young people vote, after all, and there is an election coming up. It's perhaps refreshing to see the former hyperpresident, who vowed to vanquish "tous les conservatismes," returning things to the status quo ante, like a camper attempting to leave the campsite as he found it. We have come a long way since la rupture of May 2007.

Talk by Herrick Chapman

Readers in the Boston area may want to know about a talk by Prof. Herrick Chapman of NYU at Harvard's Center for European Studies, 27 Kirkland St., Cambridge, on Thursday, April 28, 4:15-6:

"Democracy Embattled in the Age of Expertise: The Long French Reconstruction, 1944-1962" 

Aubry-DSK to Meet Friday

The moment of truth? The end of the famous Marrakech pact? Le Monde all but announces DSK's candidacy, without even a fare-thee-well to the notion that he might not run. Do they know something we don't know? Undoubtedly. They always do. Including the skeletons in the prospective candidates' respective closets--the ones that are widely rumored and the ones that aren't. Me? I'm a patient fellow. I can wait until Friday, or June, or September to learn whether Hamlet DSK will actually make up his mind. "Life is an unweeded garden," as the Bard says.

Meanwhile, François Hollande, the spoiler in this fight, has scheduled a major rally for the same day, in which he will unveil his platform for 2012.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sarko Hearts Draghi

France will support Mario Draghi to replace Jean-Claude Trichet as head of the European Central Bank. Draghi's prior service at Goldman Sachs, for which he worked from 2002 to 2005, was thought to have been a handicap, since Goldman was involved in a derivatives transaction with Greece that has been widely criticized in Europe, but Draghi says he was not directly involved.

Mars and Venus

Sarkozy's rush to take the lead in promoting European intervention in Libya has already had one unintended consequence: American doubts about European military capabilities and the wisdom of multilateral military operations have been revived with a vengeance. Lawrence Kaplan's piece no doubt overstates the case in terms reminiscent of Robert Kagan's famous "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" around the time of the war in Iraq, but it does capture the (rather despairing) mood of the moment:

If it reveals anything, the war in Libya shows that Obama’s predecessors didn’t spin their proclivities for unilateral action out of whole cloth. “The Libyan crisis has strikingly exposed the lack of a European defense policy: no ability to achieve a common political vision and no capacity to take on an operation of this kind,” said French defense analyst Bruno Tertrais, while a European diplomat predicted to the German news agency Deutsche Press Agentur that a common European defense policy “died in Libya—we just have to pick a sand dune under which we can bury it.” Indeed, the Germans have remained strenuously neutral during the conflict, other than to snipe at the French and the British, while the latter, according to The Washington Post, have nearly run out of bombs to drop.

Far from caviling about the American hyperpuissance, the Europeans have been reduced to pleading for an escalation of U.S. involvement (such as it is). To which the American response has been swift, unequivocal, and wholly beside the point: “Unilateral, open-ended military action to pursue regime change isn’t good strategy, and wouldn’t advance American credibility anywhere,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor insisted, even though what was on the table was a request for multilateral, limited action to pursue a humanitarian end. Perhaps sensing that if America wills the ends, America really ought to will the means, the administration has now dispatched Predator drones to the skies above Libya. Animate pilots, according to the Beltway buzz, may soon follow.

Quiggin and Farrell on the Politics of the Euro Crisis

A must read, here.

Poll Puzzles

Polling in a variety of presidential scenarios is reported this morning. You can read the results yourself, because poll blogging bores me. Definitely the degree zero of the genre. There is one paragraph in the story that puzzles me, however:

Dans un hypothétique duel face à DSK, notons que la présidente du FN ferait un score presque comparable : 25 %. Elle obtiendrait 28 % face à Hollande, 31 % contre Aubry. Nicolas Sarkozy, lui, est donné battu dans les duels face un candidat PS : avec un score différent suivant qu'il fait face à DSK (39 %), Hollande (44 %), Aubry (45 %) ou Royal (49 %).

In other words, the candidate of the extreme right does worst against the most centrist of the potential PS candidates (DSK), and the farther left the opponent, the greater the shift of votes to the extreme right (thanks to Tex for correcting a previous misstatement of mine). This suggests that whichever segment of the electorate is being picked up here, it is responding to something other than perceived political position on a left-right spectrum. What might that be? Machismo (the two Socialist women do worst against Marine Le Pen)? Name recognition? Supposed competence? Your guess is as good as mine.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Before June 28 for DSK

Pierre Moscovici says that DSK will decided by June 28 whether or not his is running for president. Latest polling here.

Moscovici: DSK n'a pas une "popularité de papier" by FranceInfo

Hulot: Fukushima Changed My Mind

Nicolas Hulot, now a candidate for the presidential nomination of EELV, used to favor nuclear power as part of the solution to the energy problem (and accepted EDF sponsorship of his TV program "Ushuaia"). Fukushima has changed his mind: "Getting rid of nuclear power is a priority. This represents a new state of mind." A recent poll, however, showed that 62% of the French continued to favor nuclear power, primarily because they feared increased electricity costs if nuclear generation were eliminated (83% of French electricity comes from nuclear sources).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The FN and the Working Class

A new poll has Marine Le Pen drawing more working-class votes than either DSK or Sarkozy. (Yes, I am aware of the shortcomings of the polling method, the interval between now and the election, etc. etc.) This is not a new phenomenon, and there has been some discussion in the literature of its sociological basis (e.g., the way in which the FN supplanted Communist Party social organizations in declining industrial regions as the PCF began to bleed members after 1989). Still, to the extent that anything like a coherent working-class culture remains in France, it is sad to see the FN making such inroads. It should be said, however, that 36% support for Marine Le Pen corresponds to 64% non-support. One needs to measure the lack of enthusiasm for the alternatives before drawing too firm a conclusion about the FN's strategy. The perennial question about the FN vote--protest vote or vote of adhesion?--remains largely unanswered.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


The influx of Tunisian refugees has put strain on the Schengen accord. France wants to modify the agreement to allow for temporary suspensions. The PS is outraged; the FN wants the accord abolished straightaway. Anyone who has seen the images of the long outdoor bread and soup lines in a park near the Périph', where many of the refugees are living in cardboard shelters along the railroad tracks, has to concede that there must be a more humane way to deal with the situation.

French Competition for the Royal Wedding?

Read it here. Could this be Sarkozy's secret campaign weapon? Another future director of EPAD gestating in the Élysée? If so, I say to the happy couple, Mazel tov.

Friday, April 22, 2011

As Finland Goes, So Goes the Union ...

Finland? What has Finland got to do with France? In US politics there was once the adage, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." Like Finland, Maine is a cold, northern excrescence upon the continent, but it was once taken to be a political bellwether. And now Finland has taken a sharp veer to the right, as anti-immigrant, anti-EU sentiment there catapulted the extreme-right True Finn party to an 800% gain in parliamentary seats. Worse,

Finland is not alone. Anti-European Union and anti-immigration parties have been on the rise in Sweden, Italy, Hungary and the Netherlands in the past year, and more may follow. It is a worrisome trend for supporters of the union, and for efforts to safeguard the euro by offering emergency loans to the weakest member nations and to better coordinate budget and spending policies in the countries that use it.
Will France be the next country added to this list? Or, as in 1981, will it buck the rightward turn and go its own way?

Professor Arrested in Abu Dhabi, French Look the Other Way

Nasser Bin Ghaith, a professor of economics, has been arrested in Abu Dhabi, apparently for stating on a blog that he favored a transition to democracy. The professor may or may not be employed by the Abu Dhabi branch of the Sorbonne. His relatives tell Rue89 that he lectures weekly on the campus there, whereas two Sorbonne officials in Paris claim that he has merely been an invited guest lecturer from time to time. In any case, no one at the Sorbonne seems willing to intervene on behalf of Prof. Bin Ghaith even as a colleague. This is a rather odd position to take at a time when French forces are engaged elsewhere in the Arab world in support of the very transition to democracy that Prof. Bin Ghaith advocates. About the attitude of French university authorities, Amnesty International says this:

« C'est une honte. On aurait pensé que la Sorbonne, qui agit en temps normal pour le développement d'une certaine culture, aurait au contraire soutenu Nasser bin Ghaith sans son combat et pour sa libération. »
(h/t JB)

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Your intrepid reporter's job is to read stuff that you wouldn't want to read in the hope of coming up with that one revealing nugget in a bucketful of sludge. Normally, of course, I wouldn't bore you with the New York Times' latest waste of precious column-inches devoted to explaining to American women why they will never look as elegant as une vraie Parisienne (short answer: because, darling, you've never fallen out with Karl Lagersfeld after having been his top model and can't carry your 6-foot frame with only 125 pounds of flesh while consuming  "potatoes, chocolate, bonbons, wine, bread"). And then, ma chère, you probably haven't managed to hook up with Denis Olivennes:

Ms. de la Fressange’s life has not always been perfect. It turned tragic in 2006, when her husband, the Italian businessman Luigi d’Orso, died of a heart attack. She refers to the current love of her life, Denis Olivennes, a media executive, as her “fiancé,” even though they are not engaged. “ ‘Boyfriend’ sounds so childish, ‘partner’ sounds like a business. I guess I could call him, ‘the man I often see in the bedroom in the evening.’ ”

Denis Olivennes, in case you've forgotten, used to run the FNAC, then took over Le Nouvel Obs, and now heads Europe1 for Lagardère. Connected, quoi! So it's no wonder that "Ms. de la Fressange" somehow managed to get the Times to shill for her preposterous style guide. American Francophobia ceases to be a mystery when you realize that Americans are fed a steady diet of this kind of pap:

The perfect Parisienne never uses soap on her face or wears pink on her lips or goes out without makeup, even on weekends. She never buys long-stemmed flowers (too difficult to find a suitable vase), but likes to eat (“Rest assured, I do know a few size 4s.”). She washes her hair every morning. Asked if she feels like the perfect Parisienne, she replied, “Perfection is a nightmare. A great French wine would be nothing without the taste of the oak barrel or a touch of dust.” 
Gag. Blech. Aargh.

Quagmire in the Desert

Quote of the day:

“Some countries thought the Libya operation could be over quickly,” said a senior NATO ambassador. “But no military commander thinks so.”

France is not named, but naming is hardly necessary. If the Libyan war achieves nothing else, it will have served to highlight the divisions in NATO and the EU. Indeed, the very rationale of collective defense is being questioned:

“As soon as NATO went out of area it stopped being an alliance,” said François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “In area, it is an unlimited liability partnership. But now with a global scope, everything must be negotiated, and it’s all à la carte. That’s the post-cold-war world.”
Tomas Valasek, a defense expert at the London-based Center for European Reform, compared NATO to an American political party, “a coalition of countries with broadly the same interests, but with different views.”
It was inevitable after the cold war, he said, that NATO countries would focus on different threats: terrorism and Afghanistan for some, like the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands; Russia, for the Central Europeans.
“As for the rest,” he said, “I don’t even know why they stay in NATO.”
NATO will never be what it was, Mr. Valasek said. “NATO will become more of a transactional place in the future, so, as in Libya, more often than not there will be coalitions of the willing, with NATO support.”

Indeed, the organization has not even been very effective as a military coordinator, because it has imposed additional layers of bureaucratic command and control on national military commands, resulting in less timely targeting (if BHL can be believed as a critic of military affairs--which is admittedly a large if). Since this is largely Sarkozy's war, it may prove to be a handicap if it is still raging once the presidential campaign starts in earnest. On the other hand, casualties among the allies remain non-existent, unless you count journalists, two of whom (Tim Hetherington and Chris Hodros) were killed yesterday, while French soldiers continue to die in Afghanistan (where there were major casualties yesterday) without much effect on French opinion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grooming Is Everything

Orders have gone out from Marine Le Pen: no skinheads, no camouflage uniforms or other commando garb will be tolerated at FN rallies. The fashion advice stops there: nothing about leaving the brown or black shirt in the closet, for example.

They're Only Advisors

So, France and Britain are sending troops into Libya, in small numbers to be sure, and, as the saying goes, "in a purely advisory capacity." Anyone old enough to remember Vietnam will feel a chill in the spine at the resurrection of this ominous phrase. To be sure, one of my favorite books about Vietnam, Yuen Foong Khong's Analogies at War: Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965, reminds us that analogies are often misused in thinking about war. That isn't stopping the British press from using them. So let's keep things in perspective. Qaddafi's outside support comes not from a superpower but from a weak African state and a trickle of mercenaries. On the other hand, the Benghazi forces have nothing like the infrastructure of the Republic of Vietnam, which was a fully functioning if often feckless state. The terrain is also completely different.

Meanwhile, there have been conflicting stories about the role of the "advisors." Will they coordinate airstrikes or provide training to rebels sorely in need of it? Both, perhaps, but one wonders how effective the coordination will be without better communications and trained forward controllers, and how effective the training will be if indeed only a handful of foreigners are involved and rebel weaponry remains limited to the hodgepodge of light arms captured from Qaddafi's arsenals.

Sarkozy's Symbolic Capital

Pierre Encrevé analyzes Sarkozy's poor management of the symbolic capital of the presidency.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Not to Defend Free Speech

Robert Ménard defends free speech so stridently and so obnoxiously that one wishes he weren't quite so in thrall to what his equally strident interviewer calls la liberté du buzz:

Robert Ménard by franceinter

Private Financing of Public Universities in France

An innovation:

French universities, long entirely dependent on the state for their finances, have set up 39 private foundations to receive donations, the country’s higher education minister, Valérie Pécresse, announced Wednesday.

Kapil Takes On Cohen

I had thought of criticizing Roger Cohen's column about Sarkozy in last Sunday's Times, but I find Cohen often to be such a lazy, careless writer that I decided not to bother. But I'm glad that Arun Kapil took up the challenge. Read what he has to say and you'll see why you can skip most columns by Roger Cohen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Iconoclasm in Avignon

As everyone knows by now, two works by Andres Serrano, including the famous/notorious "Piss Christ," were destroyed by vandals Catholic activists this Sunday in Avignon. The works had been displayed in the city before without incident and had this time been hanging in the Avignon gallery for three months without arousing any particular ire until the archbishop of Avignon, Mgr Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, objected to their presence, setting in motion a mounting tide of emotion ending in the destruction of the works.

Serrano's work is not to everyone's taste (including mine), but many tasteless works escape auto-da-fé. The passions unleashed in Avignon are similar to those unleashed by the Danish cartoons mocking Mohammed or the burning of the Koran in Florida. It seems rather beside the point to take refuge behind the supposed "sacred" status of the "work of art" when the point of the work is at least in part to provoke, just as surely as the cartoons and the burning were intended to provoke. Art can no more abdicate its capacity to provoke than religion can. The artist chooses to avail himself of that power in full knowledge of what he is doing, and if the provocation results in the destruction of the work, it paradoxically enhances its own power as well as the standing of "art" in general. In the age of mechanical reproduction, moreover, destruction may not be permanent. The mockery of death and resurrection may itself be born again. I prefer to reserve my outrage for other matters, since I share neither the passion for nor the passion against "Piss Christ." Speech is free, and those who would suppress the artist's freedom to speak now stand before the courts. Life goes on.

Franco-Italian Border Skirmish

Italy has issued temporary passports to several hundred Tunisian refugees who want to go to France. France yesterday suspended train service across the border at Vintimille to prevent their entry, although it says that it recognizes the "conditional" legality of the passports under the Schengen agreement. What I suspect is happening here is that France simply wants to publicize its "resistance" to the "influx" of refugees but recognizes that in the end they will come. So we'll see some skirmishes like yesterday's to minimize the number of mass arrivals with banners waving, but eventually individuals will filter in with their legal passports and that will be that, but the Front National will do what it can with the news.

UPDATE: The European Commission backs France.


Indefatigable, the peripatetic philosopher-diplomat-general returns from yet another trip to Libya with an explanation of the rebels' lack of success. It's NATO's fault:

4. Les frappes. J'ai eu le privilège d'être admis dans la Control Room de l'état-major de la Libye libre. J'ai pu y consulter le livre de bord où se trouve consigné l'historique des opérations demandées par les Libyens et mises en œuvre par la coalition.
Et j'ai clairement vu qu'il y a eu une première phase : celle où chaque pays avait la maîtrise de ses avions et où, entre le moment où Younes et son adjoint, le général de brigade Abdeslam Alhasi, donnaient la position d'une pièce d'artillerie et le tir qui la neutralisait, il s'écoulait à peine une heure. Puis une deuxième phase qui s'ouvre avec le passage du commandement à l'OTAN : le délai moyen devient de 7 heures – tout le temps qu'il faut à la "cible" pour bouger, voire disparaître ou se fondre au milieu des civils. 

Of course there are a few other problems as well: lack of training, poor arms, poor organization, Qaddafist infiltration, etc. But a few more BHL shuttle missions to deliver hope and hype in equal measure should suffice to turn the tide.

ADDENDUM: Here is another account of life inside the rebel camp to contrast with BHL's.

Can't Help Himself

The FN has changed, Jean-Marie Le Pen claims, thanks to his having given up the reins.

F.-S. Votre fille Marine veut, dit-elle, « dédiaboliser » le FN. Pour vous venger ?J.-M. L. P. J'ai le sentiment d'avoir été toute ma vie une cible. Marine a-t-elle souhaité que cette agression cesse ? Sans doute. Comme j'ai cristallisé tout cela sur moi pendant des années, le fait d'avoir passé les rênes a pu servir à cette « dédiabolisation ». Avec un dirigeant nouveau, le FN peut être plus libre.

But he's doing his best to make it clear that he hasn't changed one iota:

F.-S. Condamnez-vous le communautarisme ?J.-M. L. P. Savez-vous qu'il y a des villes en France qui sont déjà majoritairement étrangères ? Roubaix, 60 % d'immigrés maghrébins ! Si vous attendez le jour où ça brûle pour en prendre conscience, il sera un peu tard. Vous avez vu les foules en Egypte, en Tunisie, en Syrie ? Le jour où vous avez une foule comme ça qui descendra les Champs-Elysées ! Ce n'est rien, pour eux, à la limite, d'avoir 300.000 personnes. Qui les arrêtera ? Et s'ils descendent les Champs-Elysées, ce ne sera pas pour faire joujou. Par exemple, ils veulent sodomiser le Président. Ils se donnent ça comme objectif : arriver jusqu'à la grille du Coq, l'enfoncer, et ensuite « le » sabrer ? Je répète : qui les arrêtera ?

The "logic" of this little fantasy is astonishing. We go from speculation about the ethnic composition of Roubaix to televised images of the uprisings (pro-democracy uprisings!) in Arab countries, to an unstoppable march down the Champs-Elysées (the Occupation!) to a charge that "they" (antecedent unspecified--the citizens of Roubaix? the pro-democracy demonstrators? the Nazis? immigrants?) have as their goal the buggering of the president (borrowed from Stéphane Guillon?). The mind reels. And J-MLP remains the "honorary president" of MLP's FN.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


On the 25th anniversary of the death of Simone de Beauvoir, Geneviève Fraisse looks back on her work.

The Marketing of the Nuclear in France

The marketing of the nuclear in France. (h/t Glyn Morgan)

La com de l'atome from remy deveze on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dining with the President

Tahar Ben Jelloun finds un cinéphile averti. Bernard Girard sees an emulator of Mitterrand. Some of the dinner guests at other dinners strike me as rather less sympa than Ben Jelloun:

Autour de la table figurent enfin les special guests de « Michel » [Houellebecq, l'invité d'honneur--ag].David Kersan est un jeune homme aux yeux bleu acier et au beau visage androgyne. Il se présente comme l'agent de Maurice G. Dantec, «combattant chrétien et sioniste » autoproclamé, exilé au Québec et avec lequel Houellebecq caresse le projet d'un ouvrage de « conversations ». La deuxième se nomme Isabelle Chazot. Cette jolie quinquagénaire a étudié la linguistique latine. Elle est rédactrice en chef de « FHM » et de « Playboy ».Sur Facebook, David Kersan aime George Bush, les « tea party patriots », Radiohead et le free fight, où tous les coups sont permis. Il dirige « Ring », le webzine supposé inclassable des «jeunes gens modernes», que Houellebecq considère comme « le meilleur site d'information ». « Ring » le lui rend bien. Ses signatures très masculines adulent le très tendance Philippe Muray mais aussi Taguieff, Zemmour, Hortefeux et le criminologue Xavier Raufer. Elles moquent férocement Stéphane Hessel, Villepin, de Gaulle, l'islam, Sollers et le « supposé ghetto » de Gaza. Font la guerre au politiquement correct. Donc militent pour une édition critique de « Mein Kampf ».

War Over the War in Libya

The Washington Post claimed yesterday that French and British forces were proving ineffective in Libya owing to lack of flight time and shortage of precision weapons. These were problems that I foresaw in my various comments on the intervention. There is pushback, however, from Jean Guisnel, writing in Le Point, whose bottom line is that the Post article is in fact a covert advertisement for US weapons manufacturers:

L'article du Washington Post considère, sans l'écrire explicitement, que les Européens feraient bien d'acheter davantage d'armements aux États-Unis s'ils veulent faire la guerre sérieusement. Rien de neuf...
Well, the course of true love never did run smooth. Tempers often run high in joint military ventures. Still, the Libyan operations raise--yet again--many questions about what NATO's role in the world now is. With several member states opposed to the intervention and the US committed largely so that it can remain imperturbably uncommitted, we are somewhere between a Franco-British action à la Suez and a Coalition of the Reluctant.

Meanwhile, the latest atrocity attributed to Qaddafi is the use of cluster munitions in Misrata. This issue has been raised in part to spur NATO (read: the US) to commit additional forces. The irony here, of course, is that while many countries have banned cluster munitions as inhumane, the US is not among them and continues not only to keep such weapons in its arsenal but also to use them when military commanders deem the situation warrants. It would be ironic indeed if cluster bombs were dropped on pro-Qaddafi forces to prevent them from directing rockets equipped with cluster payloads against the citizens of Misrata.

Meanwhile, with the publication of the joint Obama-Sarkozy-Cameron declaration, the official mission seems to have shifted from protection of civilian populations to regime change. This, too, was predictable, but it is far from clear that the three leaders have an agreed strategy on how to achieve this aim or what to do about what may happen after it is achieved.

What is it about the word "capitalism" that you don't understand?

The Right, looking to shore up its "social" side, as it always does when a presidential election approaches, has called for stock dividends to be linked to bonuses to employees. The idea comes from François Baroin, chiraquien, who may be barely old enough to recall Chirac's winning mobilization of the theme of la fracture sociale to beat back the neo-liberal Balladur in 1995. But Laurence Parisot, the head of the employers' organization MEDEF, is having none of it:

"Nous avons rencontré le premier ministre, il y a une dizaine de jours. A aucun moment, il n'a été question de cette mesure si problématique", précise-t-elle."Attention, s'il n'y avait plus de distribution de dividendes, il n'y aurait plus d'investissement !", prévient-elle en soulignant au contraire la nécessité de soutenir celui-ci pour accélérer la sortie de crise.

In other words, "Get lost, Baroin! Profit is what makes the world go round." But she wasn't entirely without encouragement for the "social" Right. She was none too keen about Claude Guéant's proposal to limit legal immigration. You know how it is: the profits from which dividends are drawn depend just as much on workers willing to work for low wages as on making sure "investors" claim their rightful share of earnings without having to dip into their pockets to pay bonuses to workers, already so abundantly compensated by their wages. So she added this:

Par ailleurs, elle ne croit pas qu'il faille faire de l'immigration légale liée au travail "un problème". La France doit rester "un pays ouvert", assure la présidente du Medef. Face à la montée du populisme, "le plus grand danger, ce serait de se refermer", ajoute-t-elle, en se livrant à un vibrant plaidoyer en faveur d'une plus grande intégration européenne.
There was also praise for the unions, who had sagely limited their wage demands to the rate of inflation, avoiding redistributive issues in these difficult times for capitalists, who for the first time in years find themselves without the tax shield that Nicolas Sarkozy had promised to enlarge:

Elle dresse un bilan positif du dialogue social et du paritarisme. "Aujourd'hui, dit-elle, la CFDT, FO et la CFTC s'honorent en signant des accords qui préservent (…) le pouvoir d'achat des salariés". 
Unlike so many people, confused about where their interests lie, the MEDEF sees the future clearly: keep the profits rising and flowing exclusively to investors, the unions docile, and the influx of low-wage workers sufficient to guarantee that conditions one and two are satisfied, and all will be well. And yet Parisot excoriates "la montée du populisme" as if she had nothing to do with it.

Nuclear Safety in France

After Fukushima, nuclear safety will surely be an issue in the presidential campaign. Via FrédéricLN, here is a brief discussion by a noted French expert, Jacques Repussard.

Michel Rocard

Michel Rocard granted an interview to Rue89. I'm not sure why. He seems to dislike the interviewers and treats them brusquely, even rudely. Two passages worth quoting, the first concerning Ségolène Royal:

Il y en a une autre, avec laquelle vous avez des relations compliquées, c'est Ségolène Royal. La gauche chrétienne aujourd'hui, c'est elle ?Le socialisme a pour principale force de donner une lecture radiographique de l'économie, de nous dire pourquoi il y a des chômeurs et des pauvres. Je retiens comme socialiste quiconque capable de faire ce diagnostic et d'en parler.
Donc ?Je peux m'arrêter là, non, ça suffit ? Je ne suis pas de la même famille.
And this rather puzzling exchange concerning Rocard's own career:
L'adjectif « fier » revient souvent dans le livre. Vous avez « la conscience en paix ». Au terme d'une carrière aussi « secouée », c'est rare, non ?Je n'aime pas votre question. Parce que le métier de commentateur, c'est le vôtre, pas le mien. Vous établissez une gradation, vous êtes libres, indépendants, neutres, mais si moi je réponds à ça, je m'affiche comme arrogant, comme prétentieux. Allez vous faire foutre !
Quoi ?Je ne veux pas être impoli, mais je veux au moins être clair. Est-ce que je suis méthodologiquement clair ? Je suis fondé à vous répondre ainsi. Vous dire « les autres oui, sauf moi, regardez les gars » ? Pas de ça, Lisette.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are There Only 3 Lawyers in France?

One might think so from reading the papers. Take Olivier Metzner. Is there a high-profile case of the last few years in which he hasn't been involved? The latest is the trial of the mayor of La Faute-sur-Mer (great lieu-dit, by the way!), who is accused of involuntary homicide in the Xynthia affair. Among his other celebrated clients: the Bettencourt daughter, Villepin, Bertrand Cantat, Jérôme Kerviel, Le Floch-Prigent, J-M Messier, and a relative of deposed dictator Ben Ali. (The other two: Kiejman and Vergès?)

France's New Deal

Phil Nord will discuss his new book today at Harvard, Center for European Studies, 4:15-6.

Looking Back at Mitterrand's Victory

At Sciences Po, May 10, 2011.

History of the Extreme Right

A sign of the times? Le Monde presents a well-done web video documentary history of the extreme right in France.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another Gaffe

Hulot's Hat in Ring

Nicolas Hulot is now officially a candidate for the presidency. This further complicates the already bewildering picture. Hulot has described himself as a "free electron," so that if he attracts a substantial number of voters, he may be in the position of brokering the second round. In any case, he is certain to raise the prominence of ecological issues, which is probably a good thing, although it remains to be seen whether he can manage the transition from media personality to political actor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wave of Immigrants?

The last I heard of Lampedusa, it was the eponymous setting of Giuseppe di Lampedusa's magnificent lament for aristocracy, Il Gattopardo, which Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon then turned into an early Technicolor romp in the hay. Now Lampedusa is back in the news as the destination of supposed "hordes" of refugees from Tunisia and Libya, who are allegedly overwhelming Europe's ramparts. Marine Le Pen has gone there personally to head them off at the pass, and Silvio Berlusconi, between sessions in court stemming from "bunga-bunga parties" with underage Moroccan girls, has called upon Europe to take some of North Africa's tired and poor, yearning to be free, off of Italy's hands and welfare rolls.

But now Patrick Weil says that it's all trumped up, that there are no refugee hordes, and that the drama has been created to serve the propaganda purposes of various anti-immigrant parties.

Freewheelin' Dumas

Roland Dumas still has the mellifluous but forked tongue that served him so well at the bar. "La putain de la République" with whom he shared his leisure hours a while back must have enjoyed listening to his stories. Today Mitterrand's former defense minister tells us that he finds "a certain charm" in Marine Le Pen but that the Socialist Party "distresses" him. Not a dull boy, this old Musketeer.

Roland Dumas by franceinter


This is a tape recording of the interview of one of the accused Renault "spies" by Renault's security chief. "Kafkaesque" is the word that comes to mind. The man is accused of the gravest of crimes but in the most veiled terms, so that it is impossible for him to guess exactly what he is being accused of. His reaction is surprisingly mild--which may only have spurred his accuser's suspicions--but most likely he was stunned and bewildered. It is intimated that confession will be best for the soul of the accused, that things will go easier for him: but otherwise it will be la voie lourde. A chilling scene: imagine if this happened to you.

Grosse bourde ministérielle

If you like to see ministers make fools of themselves, try this. Nadine Morano has never been the sharpest pencil in the box, but this takes the cake. (On the other hand, a little sympathy is in order for those who live their lives in public: if all of our gaffes were televised, we'd all look like idiots. My conscience insisted that I add this note, but even my conscience is shaking its head in disbelief.)

France Complains about NATO

Alain Juppé says that NATO isn't doing enough in Libya. Despite France's willingness to go it alone in the Libyan operation, its capacity to sustain an extended campaign was always in doubt. Juppé didn't specify what help he wants from NATO, but it's simply a fact that France, even with the UK, is insufficiently equipped in planes, carriers, cruise missiles, and airborne surveillance capabilities to carry on a long fight without assistance. NATO is of course a polite way of bringing in US forces and supplies beyond the AWACS that are still flying in support of the Libyan mission.

More details here, particularly concerning A10 Warthog "tank-killer" aircraft.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another New Blog

Arun Kapil, a longtime reader of French Politics, has a new blog, Arunwithaview.

Pécresse at Harvard

Valérie Pécresse came to Harvard today and gave an impressive account of university reform in impeccable English. You can follow the proceedings via the liveblog transcript here. Given the number of people in the audience, I couldn't ask all of your questions, so I confined myself to asking about selection. Once the clusters are created, some will be "more excellent" than others. How will students be channeled to one rather than another? Her answer was somewhat evasive. Selection is going on now, she said, which is true, but the Grande École model of selection will not be viable in the cluster system, and the university selection (admit large numbers, flunk out large numbers after a couple of wasted years) is a poor use of resources. Much of her talk was focused on research and innovation in the sciences, which  is fine, but does not address the problems of the humanities, as Prof. Muriel Rouyer pointed out. The minister fended off this question by blaming the victim: grant applications had been invited, and humanities departments either did not apply or submitted proposals that did not meet with the approval of the jury.

Still, the overall impression left by the talk was positive. She understands many of the system's problems and has a set of prioritized strategies for achieving reform in a highly contentious environment. One can disagree with many particulars of the program and still be compelled to admit that alternative proposals would be subject to similar criticisms. One suggestion that appealed to me was the reform of the khâgne-hypokhâgne system. Pécresse noted that 4,500 students competed for just 200 places in two Ecoles Normales Supérieures. This was extremely wasteful and led to "selection by failure," with damage to student self-esteem. A reform has opened new avenues to those who are not selected, however. After finishing the khâgne, they now have other options, including political studies and entry into university master's programs.

One thing is clear: Mme Pécresse is a minister of talent.

Why do the French discriminate against Muslims?

Academic research on the question is discussed here. The answer seems to be the one given (inadvertently) by Brice Hortefeux (indeed, cited as an epigraph in the paper): "Il en faut toujours un. Quand il y en a un, ça va. C'est quand il y en a beaucoup qu'il y a des problèmes." Or, as Henry Farrell puts it:

Adida, Laitin and Valfort conduct a variety of field experiments, and find that 'rooted' French people (those with four native grandparents) are less likely to be generous when the 'salience' of Muslims in the group increases. They furthermore suggest that this is best explained by a taste for discrimination rather than some rational system of beliefs about how Muslims will reciprocate or not reciprocate towards them.

Sarko Approval 29%

Sarkozy's approval rating now stands at 29%. Although 62% approved of his intervention in Libya, he got no personal boost from taking action--just as I told NPR he wouldn't.

Austerity Is Austere

The IMF has cut its UK growth forecast for the third time this year. Apparently, the IMF staff doesn't buy the idea of "expansionary contraction." Neither does Larry Summers: see his answer to Martin Wolf's last question in this video. Incidentally, though I have mixed feelings about Summers, I think his performance here is impressive for the way in which it acknowledges criticism and reflections tensions between Summers' own judgments and the numerous objections that have been raised to his policy advice from both right and left. Martin Wolf prods him just the right amount to get the most out of him.

One of his best lines (alluding to his stormy tenure as president of Harvard): "I am one of the few people who has ever gone to Washington to get away from politics."

Arrests in Paris

Two women wearing niqabs were arrested in front of Notre Dame (video below). The provocation seems to have been deliberate, and the arrests were for "unauthorized demonstration" rather than violation of the anti-niqab law. The first court cases should be interesting, especially at the European level, which this law will undoubtedly reach at some point.

Gbagbo Arrested

French special forces have captured Laurent Gbagbo:

Laurent Gbagbo a été arrêté à Abidjan

L'ambassadeur de France à Abidjan a annoncé que Laurent Gbagbo a été arrêté. Selon un conseiller du président sortant ivoirien, ce sont les forces spéciales françaises qui sont intervenues dans la résidence présidentielle. (AFP et Reuters)

My NPR interview on French operations in Ivory Coast and Libya (recorded last Thursday, aired today) can be heard here.

The Niqab

The "no face covering" law goes into effect today, but for some reason the media seem to think its main target is Muslim women wearing the niqab and burqa rather than motorcyclists with smoky face masks. Imagine that. In any case, an informal survey by the Open Society Institute shows that women who wear the niqab do so for a variety of reasons:

Volontaires pour témoigner, toutes déclarent sans surprise que leur démarche relève d'un choix ; seule une femme reconnaît que son mari, un imam, a évoqué le premier l'éventualité qu'elle adopte cette tenue. Une autre y est venue après un vœu exaucé : "J'ai dit à Dieu, si tu veux que je porte le niqab, donne des papiers à mon mari (la nationalité française)." Il les a obtenus, elle a tenu sa promesse.
La plupart sont entrées en conflit avec leur entourage, notamment leur mère, lorsqu'elles ont adopté cette tenue. Parce que cela ne correspondait pas à leurs traditions ou par peur des difficultés dans leur vie sociale. "Ma famille me traite de salafiste, de fondamentaliste", assure Haifa, 19 ans. Six maris ont été ravis de la décision de leur femme ; quatre étaient en désaccord.

Grunberg on Borloo

He's puzzled.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Blog of Note

There's a new blog that may interest many of you. It's called Letters from Europe and is maintained by Craig Willy, a Brussels-based journalist, who sometimes comments on this blog. The subject is EU affairs. Have a look.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Ces gens n'entreront pas en France"

The words are Christian Estrosi's. He's going to stand in the schoolhouse door, as it were, to prevent Tunisian refugees from leaving Italy despite authorization from the Italian government, which insists that the responsibility for handling the influx of refugees belongs to all of Europe, not Italy alone.

"Nous ne les laisserons pas rentrer"

by Europe1fr

Danes want to make immigrants pay for state services


Zozo's Revenge

"Borloo, c'est un zozo," François Fillon is supposed to have said back when Borloo was rumored to be in line for Fillon's job. Now Borloo has his revenge. His move yesterday to quit the UMP and explore the opening for a new party in the center is a finger in the eye of Sarkozy--and in the eyes of the squabbling heirs apparent of the tattered Sarkozy mantle, Fillon and Copé. A Borloo candidacy would increase the probability of a Sarkozy defeat in the first round and possibly increase the likelihood of a victory for Marine Le Pen--and therefore of the Left in the second round. So what is Borloo's game? Does he think he can create enough of a dynamic in the center actually to prevail in the first round? It's possible but not entirely in his control: this would depend on the nominee of the Left. If DSK is chosen, I can't see this happening.

So assume that DSK does run? What does Borloo want? It would be plausible to assume that he'd want some kind of promise from Sarkozy in return for ending his candidacy after a decent interval and returning to the fold. Prime minister? Would he really want to serve under Sarko after his public humiliation last year? Perhaps. Politicians are prepared to swallow a great deal in return for power. A stint as prime minister would make Borloo more présidentiable in 2017. But maybe his candidacy is more visceral than that. Maybe he just wants to screw Sarko after having been seduced and abandoned.

It has now become impossible to describe the French presidential field to anyone who hasn't been following French politics for a while. There are just too many variables. This can't last. After DSK gets in or out, I would look forward to some sort of simplification.

Ivory Coast: The Future

Gbagbo is still in his bunker, but Alain Juppé is already preparing the future, which in some respects looks like a return to the past. Sarkozy's Africa policy had been predicated on the idea of repudiating the spirit of Françafrique and treating France's former African colonies as full-fledged states. But the Juppé blueprint suggests a new mise en tutelle, at least in the short term, as Ivory Coast's financial system and economy, ruined by Gbagbo's desperate attempt to remain in power, are rebuilt. After that, it remains to be seen whether old habits can truly be broken, especially when the substantial expat population in IC, now thoroughly traumatized by recent events, will probably clamor for closer French involvement.

Legal Immigration

Claude Guéant has evidently become President Sarkozy's "designated hitter" when it comes to immigration. Yesterday, he repudiated the official policy of l'immigration choisie, saying that with so many unemployed in France, even legal immigration would have to be reduced. But today Christian Lagarde went after him, noting that immigration of certain types of workers was and would continue to be an economic necessity. Since the coexistence of unemployment at home with the importation of workers from abroad is difficult for some people to grasp, one can expect Marine Le Pen to make use of this controversy. One has to wonder how much of Guéant's performance has been deliberate and how much is due simply to the clumsiness of a political neophyte. Nevertheless, public disagreement between ministers looks bad, and Sarkozy will have to decide how he wants to play this issue as we move into the election season. For the moment, he can let Guéant rattle on, but at some point he will have to defend all of these dérapages in his own name or else repudiate them. Either way, he makes himself vulnerable. The whole strategy seems unusually clumsy for Sarkozy, who may lack other qualities but has generally been a canny political tactician.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ça bouge au centre

Jean-Louis Borloo has--predictably--quit the UMP to explore the possibility of a federation in the center of the political spectrum. He has competitors with similar dreams: Bayrou, of course, a perennial in this space; Hervé Morin; Jean Arthuis. This is a pretty small slice of the electorate for four contenders, so something will have to give. And nothing will work if the Socialists nominate Strauss-Kahn, who already encroaches on the center's space. If, however, DSK doesn't run and the PS moves left, there might be an opening here. It's a dangerous game, which could splinter the right to smithereens and open a highway for Marine Le Pen, but if Sarkozy sinks further, temptation may get the better of all those brave UMP folks who ran under independent labels in the cantonals. A centrist cover might do nicely. And then of course there's always the Villepin wild card: he floats above the center-right divide, in a space all his own: the Napoleonic stratosphere.

French Commandos in Libya?

Maybe, if you believe the Algerian press..

NPR Appearance

I just did a recorded interview with NPR on France's role in Libya and Ivory Coast. This may air on tomorrow's "Morning Edition," depending on the news flow, or it may be delayed by a day or two.

"Le Peuple"

Laurent Bouvet analyzes the meanings of the term "le peuple."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This Is Scandalous

A mother wearing a simple headscarf is banned from visiting her child's school because of the new anti-burqa/niqab law, but she wasn't wearing a burqa or niqab. Then she was sent around to the back door. The phrase "second-class citizen" comes to mind from the bad old days in the US. (h/t Anonymous)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ivory Coast: It's Over

Gbagbo has surrendered and asked for UN protection. I think you have to say France handled this well: with patience, and just the necessary increment of force at the end. Pending further revelations, of course.

UPDATE: Or maybe he hasn't quite surrendered. Conflicting signals. Stay tuned.


So, the great debate on laïcité has come and gone. The earth did not move. The Republic is safe. Yawn.

Chance Encounters: Mélenchon, Le Pen, Dati

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ivory Coast

French forces have directly intervened in the Ivory Coast civil war, with helicopters firing on a pro-Gbagbo military camp in order to neutralize heavy weapons allegedly used against the civilian population.

Kepel on the Arab Revolts



Jean-Luc Mélenchon has attacked the Socialist platform as "IMF-compatible." Since he has previously called IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn "l'affameur des peuples," we may take it that this not intended as praise.

Police Instructed on Veils

Three weeks in preparation, a circular has gone out to police around the country instructing them how to approach women with veiled faces. The first test of the new law should be ... interesting. Police may not unveil a woman. If she refuses to unveil herself, she is to "be taken to the station to determine her identity with certainty. If she refuses, the prosecutor intervenes, and other measures will be taken in conformity with common law." It all sounds very antiseptic until one tries to imagine the scene: the woman taken into custody and then subjected to "other measures" to which all common law prisoners are subjected, such as strip searching. For the security of the facility, to be sure: no intention to humiliate anyone or to make an example of where resistance to the "common law" might lead. And the law will be tested, make no mistake: the European Court will be asked to pronounce on this law, about whose compatibility with European law questions have already been raised.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Buisson Offends Again

"Reserve the RSA and RMI for the French," Patrick Buisson told Paris Match. The magazine apparently amended these words after the fact so as not to sound too much like the Front National. But Marine Le Pen wasn't fooled:

Ancien directeur de la rédaction du journal d’extrême-droite Minute, le cerveau du pouvoir ne peut renier un passé qui a laissé des traces indélébiles, et que Marine Le Pen s’est fait un malin plaisir de rappeler sur Canal + : "Patrick Buisson vient de chez nous, par conséquent, il en a conservé un certain nombre de convictions. Le problème c’est qu’il n’arrive pas à les faire appliquer par Nicolas Sarkozy, manifestement".
It's not longer possible to characterize this kind of dérapage from the UMP as shocking. It's become business as usual.

The Socialist Program

Here it is. I will keep silent while awaiting your comments.


Laurent Bouvet reviews Jean-Pierre Chevènement's La France est-elle finie? When I lived in France back in the 70s, I was quite interested in Chevènement's CERES, a movement then on the left of the Socialist Party. As Chevènement's politics took a more nationalistic turn, as I saw it, I became disenchanted, but I continued to admire him as a politician of a certain intellectual integrity. In 2002, appalled by the fragmentation of the Left to which Chevènement's formation of a splinter party contributed, I grew still more disenchanted with JPC's politics, though the man himself never forfeited my respect. To blame him for Jospin's defeat seemed excessive: he remained a politician of deep conviction, and although the consequences of conviction in politics are sometimes unfortunate, the quality itself is rare enough to be admired.

I look forward to reading his book, although I doubt I will be quite as appreciative as Laurent Bouvet is. I don't share the Euroskepticism that seems to motivate both the author and the reviewer, and I am dubious about the revival of "republican universalism" that is supposed to project the French nation into the globalized enivronment without compromise of the principle of republican solidarity. Proclaimed universalism has often served in the past as a mask for the kind of nationalism that figured in the syllogism that Chevènement attributes to Mitterrand: "nation=nationalism=war." For Chevènement, this understanding of history explains Mitterrand's commitment to the European project. If that is what it comes down to, I incline to Mitterrand's side: nationalism, even disguised as republicanism or humanitarianism, is a force of which it is always wise to remain deeply wary.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Les Vacances de M. Hulot

This is a perennial: with a presidential election looming, the media are wondering whether Nicolas Hulot will become a candidate. Don't they always? Polls show him to be quite popular, but then, of course, he is a well-known TV personality. He speaks well, is good-looking, and knows the issues--or some of them, at any rate. One doesn't hear him saying much about regulating the financial system or reforming the universities, for example. In the last election, after toying with a run for some time, he settled on urging the other candidates to sign his famous "Ecology Pact." Which they did, on TV of course, with the Pact blown up to a size convenient for reading on le petit écran. After the election, the Hulot effect was evident in the decision to create a Superministry of the Environment, at first intended for Juppé but then given to Borloo, who staged a splashy "Grenelle of the environment" (remember that?), which led to another pact, in which all parties agreed that it would be good to be virtuous. And then there was a carbon tax, which the Conseil Constitutionnel didn't much like. And some fiddling in Cophenhagen while the planet burned. And a sideshow starring Claude Allègre. And there we are, right "back where we once belonged," as the song goes.

What environmental policy needs is a tough bureaucratic infighter, not a TV personality.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Faces of the FN

Some faces of new FN militants (mostly young and energetic) in PACA. An interesting photo-essay in Le Monde.

Public Investment Bank

The Socialists are proposing a public investment bank to finance industrial investment. Details are rather sketchy, however.

Carla Wants Out?

A trial balloon? A plea to her husband? A pleasantry? Rue89 tells us that Carla Bruni celebrated her husband's 56th birthday with a song pleading with him not to run again. An excerpt from the lyrics:

« On pourrait écrire
L'histoire des géants
Je préfère sortir
Au bois dormant
Si petit, si grand
Mon Président
Tu es tout en moi
Mon mec à moi
Oh répudie la République
Mon amour ose
Ta métamorphose
Oublie la bombe A
Notre amour chimique
est plus fort que ça
Place à Dominique. »
Make of it what you will. Shakespeare it isn't, but psychohistorians will have a field day. (Whoops--April Fool's day, I forgot.)

Ministers in Laïcité Debate

The following ministers will participate in the laïcité debate:

Claude Guéant, François Baroin, Laurent Wauquiez, Luc Chatel, Gérard Longuet, Bruno Le Maire, Valérie Pécresse, Thierry Mariani, Nadine Morano et Benoist Apparu.

I am particularly disappointed to see the name of Bruno Le Maire in this last. I had thought better of him. By contrast, Roselyne Bachelot, Minister of Solidarities, has announced that she "prefers to concentrate on the concrete problems of the French." A laudable decision.